A sinus infection (sinusitis) is caused by a virus or bacteria creating swelling in the nasal passages. Oftentimes, sinus infections come with or after a viral upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. Viral and bacterial sinus infections sometimes require different treatments.
The sinuses are a group of hollow spaces surrounding your nose and above and between your eyes. Normally filled with air, the sinuses can get blocked and filled with fluid — which gives bacteria the chance to grow and cause an infection (bacterial sinusitis).
Sinus infection pain, which affects millions of people in the United States each year, can include uncomfortable nasal blockage, cloudy or colored mucus, and facial pain or pressure. Other symptoms are cough, fever, loss of energy, and tooth pain. Sinus infections can be either acute or chronic.
- Acute sinusitis lasts up to four weeks, but typically improves in a week to 10 days.
- Chronic sinusitis may last up to three months and can linger for years. The causes of chronic sinusitis can be hard to determine, as are the appropriate treatments.
Remedies and Treatments for Sinus Infection Pain
There are several effective home remedies and treatments for sinus infection pain. Many remedies are available over the counter at a low cost.
Common sinus infection treatments include:
Many cases of sinusitis are linked to uncontrolled allergies. If you have allergies, taking medications like antihistamines (drugs to treat allergies) and avoiding allergens can help treat your sinusitis symptoms.
Decongestants ease sinus infection pain by allowing fluid to release and drain from the nasal passage tissue. These medications are available as over-the-counter (OTC) tablets or as prescription liquids.
If your sinuses are blocked, it can help to moisten your sinus cavities by inhaling steam. Doing so loosens the blocked mucus and allows it to drain. Try draping a towel over your head as you breathe in the vapor from a bowl of hot water. Alternatively, you can take a hot shower or bath, breathing in the warm, moist air.
This home remedy, called nasal lavage, can help clear your sinuses. Nasal irrigation can clear sinus drainage from the nose to make it easier to breathe. It also thins the mucus in your nose, reduces inflammation, and washes away irritants in the nasal passages.
Saline rinses require sterile water, which can be either boiled or purchased. To avoid introducing additional bacteria to the nasal passages, keep your Neti Pot (a common nasal irrigation tool) clean between uses.
Nasal Corticosteroid Sprays
Nasal corticosteroid sprays help prevent and treat inflammation and excess mucus in the nasal passages. They also treat polyps (non-cancerous nasal growths).
Extended use of nasal decongestant sprays may cause the return of more severe congestion (rebound congestion), so only use them for a few days. Whereas prescription nasal sprays containing steroids don't cause a rebound effect, so they are recommended to be used on a daily basis.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or aspirin can help with the pain and pressure that comes with sinusitis. However, studies show some patients ultimately experience worsened symptoms and recurrent infections after taking NSAIDs for sinus pain. Talk to your doctor before taking over-the-counter pain medications to treat your sinus pain.
Try to get at least eight hours each night and rest your body as much as possible. This will help your body fight the infection and speed up your recovery. People often recover from sinus infections without medical interventions. Give your body time to heal.
When to See a Doctor
It's time to see a doctor if you have:
- A fever lasting longer than three to four days
- Severe symptoms, such as severe headache or migraine, or facial pain
- Symptoms that get worse after initially improving
- Symptoms lasting more than 10 days without improvement
It's important to properly diagnose viral and bacterial sinusitis because antibiotics may be necessary for a bacterial infection, but they cannot treat a viral sinus infection. Only your doctor can differentiate between acute bacterial sinus infection and a viral sinus infection.
If you have heart, kidney, or liver disease, your healthcare provider may consider different treatment.
If you feel worse or your symptoms do not improve with the antibiotic treatment after seven days, you should call your doctor to reevaluate.